It happens every once in a while that I find myself at odds with my children after several months of getting on so well. Somehow we lose our connection and end up trying to control each other in some way or another. We fall into the trap of making our lack of connection about ourselves rather than recognizing it as relational. When undesirable behaviours amplify and begin to take a front seat in our home, I know it’s time to take a step back and look for a way out. It is in these times where we’re all feeling tight and frustrated that we need to revisit how we are exerting our power. We need to refocus from ‘power over’ to ‘power with.’
Every time I find myself in one of these phases of disconnection, I try to think back to the previous time, thinking hard about how I managed to resolve it. But I am never quite sure how it was that I got out of it the last time. It seems that simply drawing attention to the problem as a lack of intimacy and placing some conscious effort on rebuilding it seems to do the trick…with slow but steady results.
I feel like restoring connection is rather like a slow cooking stew. I know some good ingredients to put in the pot, but almost never follow a recipe. Sometimes it turns out great while other times it ends up a mediocre meal. But at the end of the day, no matter how stellar the meal turned out, we have all eaten. Not only that, we can cook up a new stew the next day and hope for a winning combination. Once we get the hang of it again, we seem to be able to knock out great tasting food day after day…that is until we’re missing some essential ingredients one day and find ourselves needing to revisit the recipe.
I find myself just on the far side of one of these disconnected states now…on the heels of birthday week – my three children were born on April 6, 8, and 9 – which throws us all for a loop. So I have been reflecting on how it is that we are steadily climbing our way up out of the darkness. After some reflection, I realized these strategies are great for parents, but can work for any relationship in need of more intimacy.
So here are some ideas I’ve thrown into my stewing pot of re-connection:
-spending lots of time outdoors together, especially in unstructured environments. We took a lot of hikes in the woods this past week!
-spending a day (as often as possible) doing what they want to do. If my children can’t agree, thy each get one choice. Yesterday we baked muffins, made a huge outdoor fort, had a picnic and spent some time creating with Play Dough.
-giving more hugs, kisses and snuggles.
-going out of my way to notice and respond to positive interactions that are happening in our home. For example, my sons were trying the comfort the baby while she was upset during dinner. They came up with many creative ideas and games to help her through it. They ended up calming her down and helping her through the meal. I made a point of telling each one separately just how helpful that had been and how grateful I was for their creativity and compassion.
-looking forward to things yet to come by talking about them in advance. For example, we have been making a plan for the coming day at bedtime, each telling something that we are looking forward to the next day.
-taking genuine interest in what they’re working on. I get them to tell me about what’s interesting them, encouraging the conversation with probing questions to deepen it. This includes making space for just that child, including eye contact and physical contact if possible.
-play with my children by joining into their games. This week I’ve been building Lego creations alongside them on the floor.
-roughhousing. This is more my husband’s forte, but I’m pretty good at instigating tickle fights! A note on this – it is key that everyone involved is enjoying themselves. Consent is a huge part of feeling connected. We stop all roughhousing and tickles at the first ‘no.’ Teaching consent, even at a young age, is imperative learning for all relationships that happen outside of our home.
-being mindful of making connection a priority. This commitment changes my body language, tone of voice and general response to my children. It also reminds me to slow down and patiently wait for the storm to blow over. We are not a family who uses computers/cell phones/etc. while the children are present, but during disconnected times I make extra effort to further reduce all use of technology. For example, my blogging time during rest time is reduced to ensure the children do not see me using the computer at all. This really brings the focus back to the people, and they can feel it.
-remembering it is more important to listen to understand than to respond. Releasing my need to ‘fix it’ allows me to roll with the waves of emotion a lot easier.
-taking time for myself. I let go of things I think I should do in order to pursue things that feed my soul and try reduce my own use of technology which I find allows me to ‘escape’ but doesn’t actually refuel myself. If I can treat myself with compassion, I will have more of it to give my children. In order to be mindful, I need to be connected to myself. To make space for this, I re-prioritize how I use the times where I am not normally with my children, like rest time and after they’re in bed.
-lighten up! I look for ways to focus on joy. I look for ways to have fun, laugh and find opportunities to turn a situation around. I share statements of gratitude, and encourage my children to do the same. Life always offers more than one perspective.
What ideas do you use for re-connection?